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MonkeyNotes-Ulysses by James Joyce
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Literary/Historical Information

To enjoy Joyce’s Ulysses, the reader does not need a profound scholarly knowledge of Homer’s epic The Odyssey. However, an acquaintance with Homer’s epic will certainly sharpen one’s appreciation of Joyce’s modern version. It is essential to be at least familiar with an outline of Homer’s original. It is not difficult to summarize briefly the story as told by Homer. Odysseus was one of the Greek heroes who besieged and finally captured the city of Troy. This was a revenge for the adulterous elopement of Helen, wife of King Menelaus, with Paris the Prince of Troy. Odysseus suffered 10 years’ delay in returning home to Ithaca. This was a punishment for him for having offended the sea god Poseidon. Thanks to his renowned cunning, Odysseus survived all the detours and perilous adventures that Poseidon inflicted on him. Odysseus encountered a number of people in a series of encounters. Lotus-eaters allured him. He was confronted by Laestrygonians. He suffered from the varying favor of Aeolus. He escaped by ruse from the ferocity of Cyclops. He disengaged himself from the maiden charms of Nausicaa. He emerged finally a man after the temptations of Circe. The final shipwreck of Ulysses and his subsequent misfortunes were the result of the impiety of his companions who had killed and eaten the Oxen of the Sun. The Calypso who detained him since his shipwreck was a nymph. Finally, he enacted his home coming slew Penelope’s suitors before claiming her. Another strand of Odyssey was the search of Telemachus, Ulysses’ son, for his father. In the final section Ulysses and his son Telemachus returned together to Ithaca.


The structure of James Joyce’s Ulysses follows that of its model, the Odyssey, in the general structure of the wanderings and in the division into three parts. The opening section deals with the son, Telemachus/Stephen. The middle part deals with the wandering of Ulysses/Bloom around the richly varied Mediterranean/Dublin. There is a final section in which Bloom and Stephen, like Ulysses and Telemachus, come together to Bloom’s house/Ithaca. There is a reunion at the end between Ulysses/Bloom and Penelope/Molly.

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